Unique Tool is training tomorrow’s skilled workers today
The Windsor, Ont.-based moldmaker has introduced a new hands-on program to train high school students for the moldmaking profession.
Everybody talks about the weather, Mark Twain once quipped, but nobody does anything about it. For years now, and on a more serious subject, the same has been largely true of Canada’s skilled labour shortage: The problem is widely discussed, but not much gets done to fix it.
Windsor, Ont.-based moldmaker Unique Tool & Gauge is doing its part to change that, however. The company – which works with all major global automotive producers and their key Tier 1 suppliers, and operates out of a 60,000-square-foot facility – has initiated a new, structured one-year training program designed to lead to full-time positions with the firm. In partnership with the Greater Essex County District School Board’s Ontario Youth Apprentice Program (OYAP) and the Dual Credit Program associated with St. Clair College, Unique Tool took on eight trainees in early February – six Grade 11 OYAP high school students, who are working on a one-year, paid co-op placement, and two current dual credit students in the St. Clair College General Machinist Program. All eight are working on a full-time basis at Unique Tool, and receive both salary and benefits.
“This is an idea we developed ourselves and took to OYAP and St. Clair College,” Unique Tool president Darcy King said. “Like almost every other moldmaker, we have a skilled labour shortage. We tried everything we could think of to attract young workers – newspaper and radio ads, reaching out on social media, going to job fairs, even truck advertising – and nothing worked. We were turning away work because we didn’t have the staff. We needed to find a new way to attract, train, and retain young people, and we think this is program will do it.”
The students will learn and develop skills over a broad range of disciplines, including CNC machining, computer-based mold design, EDM operation, critical tolerance machining operations, and mold construction. “We’ll give the students a complete picture of what we do by having them work in every department,” King said. “Too many apprentices in mold shops fall through the cracks; they do the same job year after year and either lose interest in the industry or can only do that one job. We want to avoid that.”
The program also puts a premium on safety, King added. “The most important aspect of the program is learning the safe operation of complex, manufacturing equipment; safe operating procedures and thorough knowledge of the equipment being used is built into every part of the program,” he said.
At the end of the year-long program, the Grade 11 OYAP students will return to school for the final months of their Grade 12 education and receive their diploma on time with other members of their class; those enrolled in the eight week St. Clair College General Machinist Program will return to complete the second half of their program, after which they’ll begin their full-time positions with Unique Tool. “At the end of the year, we’ll review how each student scored in each department – rating them from unsatisfactory to excellent – and will work with them to assign them to the right department,” King said.
The program represents a serious investment of resources on Unique Tool’s part. “We’ll probably spend about $750,000 on it this year alone,” King said, “In addition to the extra salaries and benefits, we have to maintain machines for the students to learn on that we wouldn’t otherwise use. We’ve also assigned one of our master moldmakers to serve full-time as lead instructor for the program.”
The program isn’t limited to students, and anyone interested in pursuing a career in moldmaking can apply for the next class, which is scheduled to begin in September 2018.
“Because of the attention we’re getting, we’ve already received dozens of resumes for September,” King said. “We’ve been reliably told that we’re the only mold shop in North America running a program like this. It’s a big investment, but we’re confident it will pay off by providing us with a new generation of savvy and highly trained manufacturing experts. We think there’s no better position than a manufacturing job and the young people we’re training today will have a challenging and well-paying career ahead of them.”